Martial Arts Titles

Martial Arts Teaching Titles - Shogo

Martial Artists often use Sensei to distinguish instructors of a particular Ryu. Junior and Senior students are often organized via a sempai/kohai system. Other titles are conferred loosely and under no particular standardization. They often follow the commonly used black belt or Dan system of ranking. The usage of these titles is quite common outside of Japan and is subject to much interpretation.

The following explanations assume that judan (10th degree black belt) is the top rank within a style. These are loosely defined:

Hanshi (範士) or sometimes Shihan (師範) refers to the senior instructor of instructors or expert teacher. This title is usually conferred at the 9th (kyudan) or 10th dan (jyudan) ranking, usually by the senior leader or leadership of the organization. This title is given to a senior instructor who has distinguished himself as a teacher of teachers.


Kyoshi (教士) refers to a master instructor/teacher. It is the second formal teaching rank. This title is usually awarded to one who has achieved a rank of 7th or 8th degree black belt (nanadan (七段) or hachidan (八段). Kyoshi are typically regarded as those who have distinguished themselves as expert teachers or instructors.


Renshi (錬士) Senior Expert - often refers to an advanced instructor. Renshi means "teacher" or "one who has mastered himself." In many styles, it is awarded around the 5th degree godan (五段) or 6th degree rokudan (六段) black belt level.



Shishou (師匠) is also used for the name of a martial arts instructor.


Sensei (先生) is a Japanese title used to refer to or address teachers, professionals such as doctors and lawyers, politicians, clergymen, and other authority figures. It is also used to show respect to someone who has achieved a certain level of mastery in an art form or some other skill: accomplished novelists, musicians, and artists are addressed with the title in this way; for example, Japanese manga fans refer to manga artist Osamu Tezuka as "Tezuka-sensei." Sensei is also one of the common Japanese martial arts titles.


Senpai (先輩) is a Japanese term for a person in a club or other organization, including a school or college, who is a senior (in other words, a member for longer or of a higher year) and mutually recognized as such. The junior counterpart is called kōhai (後輩). Senpai is often seen Romanized as sempai, in accordance with the initial version of the Hepburn Romanisation system.

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page last updated on Thursday 28 October 2010